The wonderful Joanna Grace from “The Sensory Projects” has written this fab blog to help us understand what is meant by sensory engagement.

What is sensory engagment?

We all know children are more interested in a hands on learning experience than a chalk and talk one (adults too), sensory engagement aims to take that one step further.

Our primary means of accessing information in the world is our senses, as we begin our cognitive journey we begin with a sensory exploration of our surrounds, that lays the foundation blocks for our understanding. We build upon our sensory understanding of the world to create anticipation, curiosity and reason.

Teaching in a sensory way is super inclusive as it invites everyone to join in, no matter where they are cognitively. When our senses are involved in learning and participation more of our brain is stimulated, this is what makes it more interesting and makes us more likely to retain that information. Think of the lessons you remember from school, it is likely they were the ones with the Bunsen burners, or where you sang or moved, the ones where your senses are involved.

Sensory engagement promotes cognition and memory, it supports communication and people’s ability and readiness to learn, and it is good for mental health too.

I am a sensory engagement specialist, often times in my work I am trying to draw a distinction between sensory and SENSORY. Because of course everything can be seen, touched, even tasted, arguably all experiences are sensory, but I mean something more than that. I mean SENSORY, not sensory!

To be SENSORY I look for experiences that draw the attention of the senses alone, so an experience that even if you have no understanding will still be interesting to your sensory systems, or experiences that fill a whole sensory system.

Here is an example:

A teacher telling a story about a child finding treasure at the end of the rainbow might hold up a picture of a rainbow to further engagement with this story. The child who understands that the story is about a rainbow will look to the picture to find out what the rainbow looks like. It is their understanding, their curiosity, that draws them to that image, not their senses. Indeed their sight maybe drawn by another bright object in the room, or by a light source. This is sensory.

If I were to try to tell that same story I might prepare by sourcing some lovely coloured cellophane, as the child in the story steps into the rainbow to pick up the treasure I will invite the child I am sharing the story with to look through sheets of coloured cellophane – that change the colour of EVERYTHING they see – or perhaps I would hold the sheets over the end of a torch and bathe that child in the different colours of light. This is SENSORY.

I write sensory stories, these are concise narratives in which each sentence of the story is accompanied by a rich and relevant sensory experience. As the story unfolds the person listening gets to touch things, taste things, smell things, have their vision delighted, their ears excited, they get to move and find themselves in space. They are fantastically engaging.

In my work I share sensory stories with people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, people who face enormous barriers to accessing learning and the enjoyment of sensory stories. I also share sensory stories with primary school children, using them as a tool for creative writing, and secondary school children, using them as a comprehension challenge (can you boil a Shakespeare play down into 10 essential sentences and 10 sensations – if a picture speaks a thousand words just think how many words 10 sensations could equate to). And I’ve shared sensory stories with adults and university students.

Often times when people are looking to be inclusive they start with a relatively complex task and try to strip it back to make it easier so someone who faces more barriers to learning can access it, this can be a depressing process, what you are offering feels like it gets less as you work to make it accessible. But if you start at a sensory level and work up, it is easier, more fun, and more inclusive, and it doesn’t lessen the offer it enriches it for everyone.

To find out more about how Joanna can help you please visit her website

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We have just uploaded the Speech and Language resource linked to our May session of the month “Amazon adventure”.    This is also available in Welsh.

You will also find the “Amazon adventure” Certificate, Learning and Creative activities in the shop.

Would you like to try something new in your setting for the month of May?

If the answer is YES, then take your children on an Amazon adventure and you will:

  • Use your binoculars and look for spiders and snakes
  • Find a monkey jumping from tree to tree and join the fun
  • Spot a snake under your tree and join him slithering along the ground
  • Meet a jaguar and help him sharpen his claws on the trees
  • Wake up the parrots and join them as they look for a quiet spot to sleep

“Amazon adventure” will help improve your children’s:

  • Physical literacy
  • Speech, language and communication skills
  • Emotional regulation and personal and social development
  • Knowledge and understanding of the world
  • Mathematical development
  • Confidence and improved self-esteem and well-being

There are so many opportunities for learning in the adventures and we have done all the hard work so you can have the fun helping your little ones learn.  Littlemagictrain sessions cover all areas of the EYFS and Foundation Phase.

Visit and go to our “Special offers” and you will find the “Amazon adventure” bundle which includes the “Individual session”, “Speech and Language activities”, “Creative activities”, “Learning activities” and “Certificate”.  This bundle comes to a total of £18.75 and you will receive the “Amazon adventure” training videos for FREE (RRP £20.00)

#littlemagictrain #EYresources #EYtraining #speechandlanguage #physicalliteracy #relationshipbuilding #emotionalregulation #emotionaldevelopment #wellbeing #Play #Everydayisalearningday #childminders #nurseries #preschool #preschoolplay #earlyyearsmath

So excited to be part of the Early Years Festival this weekend in Nigeria. This is being streamed online so anyone can access the session. If you would like to attend please DM me your email details and they will be forwarded to the organizers.
Really looking forward to talking about the importance of movement and learning for all children and how Littlemagictrain ? can make things easier to deliver this in their settings. I will be listening and learning from the amazing Amanda Peddle and Catherine Lyon talking about TAM’s Journey books and the importance of getting it right for children. Do hope you will join us on our adventure. Don’t forget just DM your email and you will be able to access the event – do share with your friends and colleagues. ?

Meeting Myelin

Did you know how much of a pivotal role Myelin plays in your child’s development?

What is Myelin?

Myelin is humble-looking insulation that very tightly wraps around the nerve fibres.  This process increases signal strength, speed and accuracy.  This incredible insulation is the broadband in our brain and every time we do something and practise it, we are upgrading the speed and precision of the broadband in our brain circuitry.

 When you hear people talking about ‘muscle memory’ they are actually talking about Myelin and it has even been attributed as the key “to talking, reading learning skills and being human.”

Q: Why is targeted, mistake-focused practise so effective?

A: Because the best way to build a good circuit is to fire it, attend to the mistakes, then fire it again, over and over.  Struggle is not an option: it’s a biological requirement.

Coyle, D, (2009); The Talent Code, page 34

If Myelin was part of a City or Town it would be the tarmac on our roads and pavement.  That does seem a little boring and dull as to be honest have you ever stood in awe admiring concrete? I know I certainly don’t, but we really should be admiring and nurturing the Myelin in our own circuitry and helping develop it in our little ones.

Did you know?

Myelin initially builds on the sensorimotor white matter and the Heschl gyrus (the structure containing the human primary auditory cortex in the brain) then extends to the language-related areas.

The vital aspect of physical literacy in the Early Years is that it helps with speech and language and this is looked at in the ‘Myelination of language-related areas in the developing brain’ by J. Pujol, et al, 2006.

My light bulb moment with Myelin

When I created Littlemagictrain, in 2004, I was intrigued by the feedback from nurseries and preschools regarding the increased confidence of the children after a few sessions.  For the first few years, I initially assumed this was due to the way make-believe, music and movement had been combined in one session to engage the children.

But then I read Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code’ about the importance of Myelin in training dancers, athletes and musicians and he concludes that it’s not about practise but “good practise”.

Q: Why are passion and persistence key ingredients of talent?

A: Because wrapping Myelin around a big circuit requires immense energy and time.  If you don’t love it, you’ll never work hard enough to be great.

Coyle, D, (2009); The Talent Code, page 34

“Good practise” is vital in early years as everything the children do, and learn, is creating all those amazing neural connections in the brain and Myelin working overtime to wrap around the nerve fibres.  Myelin has been described as a fatty sausage that wraps around the nerve fibre.  The best way to envisage Myelin is layers and layers of electrical tape that has been used to prevent any leaks.

When a neural pathway is made and fully Myelinated (covered in electrical tape), your brain doesn’t change the pathway or make amends it just rebuilds elsewhere.  For example, if you have made a connection going from ‘A to B’ and you need to correct this mistake, your body has to create a totally new neural pathway and start again. Unfortunately, this means the brain has to find a new way of getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’ and to get there it may have to go via ‘W’.  A lot of extra work!


‘Little ones brain development’ Littlemagictrain 2021

This simple graphic shows how hard the brain is working in the early years, growing connections and pathways and at the same time wrapping Myelin around all those pathways.



‘Meeting our hero Mr Myelin’

‘Daniel Coyle draws on research in his book ‘The Talent Code’ on the importance Myelin building.  He reveals why some teaching methods are more effective and how important it is to train our brains in the right way.  Coyle introduces you to Mr Myelin the man behind this research.

Mr Myelin is in fact Professor George Bartzokis (1956-2014), a neuroscientist and Professor of Psychiatry.  Bartzokis originated the theory that the degeneration of the brain’s myelin contributed to many developmental and degenerative diseases, such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.   This research shows the importance of Myelin in the brain and how it ensures everything runs smoothly.

‘If you don’t use it you lose it!’  

This phrase says it all, as the brain will prune away the bad neural pathway and the new pathway going from ‘A’ via ‘W’ to ‘B’ will stay.  The brain is continually growing and pruning neural pathways.  To help children learn we need to ensure the correct neural pathway is built so they don’t have to relearn, rebuild and prune.  I always visualize a gardener attacking a rose, that has grown along a wall in the wrong direction.  The gardener has to prune the poor rose which then has to find the energy and make the effort to grow all over again in the right direction.

‘Something to think about’

Q: “Why can’t monkey’s – which have every neuron type and neurotransmitter we have – use language the way we do?”

A: “because we’ve got 20% more myelin.  To talk like we are now takes a lot of information -processing speed, and they have no broadband.

Q: “Why can horses walk immediately on being born while humans take a year?”

A: “A horse is born with its brain fully myelinated, online, and ready to go.

Coyle, D, (2009); The Talent Code (p 67-68)


Some Handy Myelin building rules

Daniel Coyle came up with these 3 rules in his book on how to grow Myelin.

 RULE 1:


  • bite-sized


  • demonstrate correctly


  • going slowly allows you to correct errors to create a higher degree of precision. When it comes to growing myelin – precision is everything.

 RULE 2:


  • There is no substitute for attentive repetition of the skill you want to build – remember quality not quantity.



  • Coyle gave the example of violinists. If they hear an out of tune string, it should bother them.  It should bother them a lot.  That’s what they need to feel. This feeling means they are concentrating and when you are really practising you are concentrating and an out of tune string would really annoy you.

Littlemagictrain and Myelin

Reading Daniel Coyle’s book helped me make sense of my own vocational ballet training and perfecting movements to build Myelin and the how and why of teaching.  On reflection, I can see that without realizing it, I had been following the rules of Myelin building in the sessions.

It is so important that we help children build the correct pathways.  To ensure this process is fun and the children are fully engaged and included I have always used the fun of make-believe, music and movement and this is the foundation and passion of Littlemagictrain.

In a nutshell

Littlemagictrain helps with Myelin building as we develop the story and actions over a number of weeks.  The sessions allow you to:

  • Chunk it up (small bites)

movement skills and vocabulary are developed in small bite sized chunks.

  • Model correctly

correct modelling from the grown-ups to help with learning

  • Slow it down

the speed of your actions/development will depend on your little ones needs.

  • Repeat it

the sessions allow for repetition with the fun of what next?

So many different learning opportunities to be had through fun.  For more information on the sessions and how they will benefit your little ones visit



Coyle, D., 2010. The Talent Code. Crawley: Arrow Books (ISBN 9780099519850)

Pujol. J, Sorian-Mas. C, Ortiz. H, Sebastian Galles. N, Losilla. J.M. & Deus.J., 2006. Myelination of language-related areas in the developing brain’. March 2006. Neurology 66 (3): 339-43; PubMed.